Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. (1 John 2:9)
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8)
Anyone who does not love remains in death. (1 John 3:14)
Last week I talked about loving God, and of the intensity and nature of that love. “Shouldn’t I respond to God’s amazing love with a crazy love of my own, the kind where I would do anything for him?” I’ve been thinking some more about God’s love, and my love, and what that all looks like. The other part of the love that God calls us to, in addition to loving the Lord with all of our heart, soul, and mind, is to love your neighbor as yourself. Even more than that, Christ’s command in John 15:12 is this: “Love each other as I have loved you.” Suppose that I took that seriously. What would it look like?
First of all, the love God calls us to is extended even to our enemies. Jesus said that if we love those who love us, we’re doing no better than the sinners who do likewise. (Luke 6:32) Instead, we are to love even our enemies, even when they are unrepentant. God, after all, is kind to evil and ungrateful people. (v35) If someone strikes us, we are not to strike back, but offer grace instead. If someone steals from us, we offer them more. We are to love the evil doer, rather than resisting them (Matthew 5:39).
We read this in our Bibles, since this stuff is all through the New Testament, but we don’t really believe it. Do I love the person who cuts me off on the freeway, who steals from me, who cheats me out of my money? Do I love people who waste my time, who are disrespectful to me, who are unkind or ungrateful? If I believed what the Bible tells me, this is what my love would look like.
Love is not angry or resentful, but instead is patient and kind (1 Corinthians 13). Christ’s love is forgiving, even where forgiveness is completely unearned (after all, earned forgiveness isn’t really forgiveness, its restitution). So, love cannot hold grudges. Loves speaks well of others, hopes for the best for them, and is eager to honor others (Romans 12:10). That is what love looks like, and if I am really a Christ follower, this is what my love will look like.
Love cares about the needs of the loved one, and provides for them. “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:17) Around the world, God’s children are sick, and homeless, and hungry, and naked. I do stuff for them. I work at a relief and development agency after all. In January I was in Ethiopia for a couple of weeks. I took some amazing pictures of shacks tacked together by the poor out of scraps. Then I came home to my beautiful huge house. I have to admit that my reaction isn’t that my heart breaks for the poor. Instead, I’m mostly grateful not to be them. That doesn’t sound much like “love them as yourself,” does it?
Jesus command was simple: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” (Luke 12:33) This wasn’t in some context that we can dodge by saying it was aimed at a prideful young ruler, and we’re better than him. Rather, this is the passage that says “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Jesus knows what our reaction to this command is. “Don’t be afraid,” he tells us in verse 32, “for your Father is well pleased to give you the kingdom.”
A few weeks ago I told the story about listening to Sara Groves’ song “When the Saints.” I reacted very strongly to the phrase “I see the young girl huddled on the brothel floor.” The thought in my mind was one of my little girls being in that situation. But God says “They are all my little girl.” How many sisters do I have who are in slavery? Do I love them like they are really my family? If one of my little girls was in that situation, I would certainly do something. Jesus tells us in Matthew 25: 45, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
The loving heart breaks at poverty, at injustice, at abuse, at hunger and disease. More than that, it takes action. A few weeks ago I talked about the fact that I have been bought, that I am not my own, and that all “my” stuff is not my own. The stuff that God has entrusted me with is his. His children are hungry and naked and sick, while I am living in his house and spending his money.
So I read what God says about love, and I’ve tried to describe what that love would look like. Here’s the problem. I read the Bible, and I see what it says, and I look around me at the people I know who say that they follow God, and I see a huge split between the two. In fact, I’m not even sure its humanly possible to really love the way God calls us to love. Love is, after all, the fruit of the Spirit, not the fruit of trying really hard. What can I do then? Can I love like that?
The answer, I believe (and have said before in recent weeks), is full surrender. Not surrender to love as an abstract idea or to religious fervor. Surrender to God, to the only one who can change my heart.
Father, I know that you don’t want me to go live in a shack and to starve, because you said that you know my needs and you care for me. I also know that I have not found the right balance yet between what of your resources that you have entrusted me with are for my needs, and what you want me to use for these others who you love as much as you love me. I know that I do not love enough, because when I am wronged and when I see need my reaction is not usually a love that leads to loving action. Father, I lay all that I am, all that you have given to me, back at your feet. I surrender. Even as I say that I know there are corners where I haven’t let go yet. Take them too. I know that I am not strong enough, and that the love you call me to is only reachable by the power of your Spirit. And so, Father, that is my plea. Teach me to love as you love. I believe, Father, and so I act on that belief, but knowing that most of what I need to do I can only do by your Spirit. I believe. Help my unbelief. Amen